Guacamelee 2

A game by DrinkBox Studios for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch originally released in 2018.
Guacamelee 2 is the follow-up to the original Guacamelee, and once again stars Juan Aguacate in a colorful Mexican-themed beat ‘em up metroidvania filled with zany characters. The large interconnected world slowly opens as Juan uncovers new wrestling moves, which double as combat techniques and environmental navigation tools. As before, Juan has the power to transform into a chicken to enter small passageways morph ball-style, and he learns a number of chicken-specific techniques that allow him to take on enemies and reach new areas.

The game begins by revisiting the finale of the first game, although the dialogue is somewhat different. Here, Juan faces off against the evil Calaca to rescue Lupita. You fight Calaca in his skeleton form and again in his demonic form, but the battle is quite easy, since this is now the introduction to the game rather than its final boss encounter. The original game had two endings, one where Juan is too late and Lupita is dead, and another where Juan’s mask cracks to pieces and he looks down to find her alive. The latter ending is the canonical beginning to Guacamelee 2.

Juan and Lupita embrace and kiss in victory… and seven years go by. Juan is sitting in his basement with a big ole beer gut reminiscing on this glory days as he stares at his trophies and posters. He is now married to Lupita and has two children. Despite his sedentary lifestyle, things seem to be going pretty well for Juan and the town, but one day, dark rectangular voids appear in the skies overhead, and skeleton creatures come through a portal, followed by a goat who tells Juan that he must travel to the “Darkest Timeline”.

In the Darkest Timeline, Juan was killed trying to rescue Lupita, and Salvador killed Calaca to save the Mexiverse. But darkness has started to overcome Salvador, and he now lusts for power, leading him to steal one of three legendary relics. As it turns out, Juan is the last living version of himself across all timelines. Unfortunately, he is a shadow of his former self (a pudgy shadow) and no longer possesses any of his special abilities, so per metroidvania conventions, he sets out to regain his powers – along with some new ones – to thwart this new enemy. Fortunately, simply donning his mask allows him to return to his formerly impressive physique, putting him back in fighting shape, despite his reduced abilities.

The bad guys are after three legendary relics, which is a reference to the Triforce from The Legend of Zelda. The game doesn’t offer quite as many gaming or pop culture references as the original did, but there are a few here and there, mostly in bits of dialogue or on posters in the background. These include references to He-Man and Black Panther, among others, and the “Choozo” statues make a return in a nod to the Metroid series. More obvious references appear in some of the humorous alternate timelines in which players get a flavor of such games as Limbo, Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Final Fight.

Juan has a 1.5x variable jump, a 4-hit combo while on the ground, a 3-hit combo in the air, and the ability to grab and throw enemies, or transition into a number of (purchasable) wrestling moves. In the air, he has a somewhat ineffective jump kick, and he can attack downward with a double fist strike, and these moves can be combined with other attacks to juggle enemies and perform crowd control. However, Juan's default aerial maneuvers become largely redundant once he begins unlocking his special moves. Juan can perform a dodge roll, which is important when dealing with enemies who must be attacked from behind, or when he gets backed into a corner. The dodge roll also allows Juan to dodge through thorny branches, and there’s an aerial version of this dodge which simply makes him invincible for a moment.

There are four major special moves to earn throughout the course of the game. The rooster uppercut allows the player to perform a huge multi-hit uppercut that can launch enemies in the air or be used against aerial foes. This ability also acts as a short double jump – although the player earns a regular double jump much later in the game – allowing him to reach higher platforms, and this move also allows the player to smash through red blocks.

Next up is a dash-punch which allows Juan to cross slightly larger gaps, attack horizontally on the ground or in the air, and smash through blue blocks. The frog slam is a downward strike, allowing Juan to get the drop on enemies and break green blocks. Finally, there is a headbutt that unleashes a powerful short range attack and also breaks yellow blocks. It’s important to note that each of these attacks can only be used once while in the air, but the player is able to chain them together to cause heavy damage to tough enemies. Special moves each drain a unit from a secondary stamina meter, which refills over time.

Early on, Juan gains the ability to transform into a chicken, allowing him to enter small passageways (and toilets!) and complete chicken-only challenge areas. As a chicken, he can attack enemies with weak pecks, but he later unlocks a more powerful diagonal air dash that can be used to slam into enemies and knock them backward, and this also allows him to reach distant platforms. This air dash has a couple of upgrades that eventually allow chicken-Juan to bounce off rows of bumpers, dash again in the air, and perform a ground slide. Later, chicken-Juan gains the ability to ride air currents and glide slowly to the ground, and combining these techniques lets him reach just about any point in the environment.

Juan has some additional moves that he earns as well, including a double jump, wall grab, wall slide, and wall jump. He cannot jump up vertical surfaces with his wall jump, but he gains another ability late in the game that is far more useful in this regard. Juan also earns the ability to slingshot himself between suspended points in the air, allowing him to reach high platforms, and often he must sling between multiple points in succession.

More importantly, Juan gains the ability to swap between the world of the living and the world of the dead. From a gameplay standpoint, this is used to pass through walls or ride on platforms that are only present in one of the realms, but later levels have alternate effects for these abilities, such as causing wind currents to reverse direction, mechanisms to move forward and backward, and pillars of lava to turn to stone. There are also some buildings that may only be entered in one realm or the other, and many characters only exist in one realm, but their relatives may be standing on the same spot in the opposite realm. Interestingly, there is dedicated artwork for each of the realms, and sometimes significantly different background elements in one realm versus the other.

Some enemies only appear in one realm, making them invincible to your attacks when they are in the opposite realm, but they are able to strike you in return. As such, you must alternate between realms to deal out damage. Also, many enemies have a color-coded aura, corresponding to one of Juan’s special attacks. For instance, a red aura means that the enemy cannot be damaged except by a rooster uppercut, after which the red color is broken and the player can follow up with regular attacks. After a while, these color-coded barriers reappear.

Some enemies appear in purple or orange as well, indicating that the player needs to switch over to his chicken form and use the corresponding attacks. Some enemies are surrounded by layered white shields that require multiple strikes before they receive damage. Most enemy attacks can be avoided with a dodge roll, but those that appear in white or bright purple cannot, requiring the player to jump out of the way. Combined, these elements lead to a very technical combat experience, requiring the player to frequently change up his strategies, particularly when dealing with multiple enemies that are affected by different kinds of attacks.

The world is filled with numerous optional challenge areas that task the player with performing platforming feats to reach treasure chests containing heart pieces, mask pieces, money, or unlockable skins for Juan. However, some of the tougher challenges become tests of the player’s ability to quickly alternate between button presses as he performs a grapple, swaps dimensions to pass through a wall, swaps back to hit a grapple point, swaps again to perform a wall grab, and then jumps and performs an uppercut to reach a high platform, often with little room for error. A tougher set of challenges awaits truly skilled players in the form an optional world-spanning Chicken Illuminati quest.

Collecting three heart pieces adds a bit more health to Juan’s meter, and collecting three mask pieces adds one unit of stamina. Collecting money allows the player to purchase numerous upgrades via the menu interface, including new wrestling moves, stronger special moves, better rewards for longer combos, or increased health and money drops from killed enemies. Early on, the player must make decisions about what kinds of upgrades best support his playstyle, but money is easy to come by late in the game, especially for players skilled at performing long combos.

Combat is fairly straightforward, with complexity growing not by the addition of new enemy types but rather through the more complex patterns of color-coded shields and dimension swaps. Most enemies can be stunned by repeated attacks and tossed into one another for crowd control, with the occasional large enemy appearing that requires the player to move in to attack and then move away or dodge heavy strikes. Often, the player is placed in a confined arena and must defeat one or more waves of enemies without being killed before the path forward is opened. Completing these challenges rewards the player with a piƱata that can be broken for a bit of money and health restoration.

Much of the game’s focus is on environmental traversal across numerous themed environments, and a fast travel system helps with a bit of backtracking, but the player still needs to do a lot of on-foot travel when revisiting previous locales. As players gain new abilities, side paths open up, per metroidvania conventions, and these often lead to heart or mask pieces, thus encouraging exploration and backtracking.

Aesthetically, the world is gorgeous, with a cohesive style, vibrant colors, and pleasant effects, accompanied by an appropriately upbeat soundtrack comprised of traditional Mexican instruments. The characters are equally colorful and their humor is incredibly strange. Also, the game features local 4P cooperative play for the entire campaign, so players can team up to take down baddies, which significantly increases the onscreen chaos… although the game has an annoying habit of occasionally throwing up multiplayer HUD elements even during 1P combat.

Guacamelee 2 was developed by Toronto-based developer DrinkBox Studios, which was founded in 2008. Their first release was Tales from Space: About a Blob in 2011, followed by Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack in 2012, and Guacamelee in 2013.

In About a Blob, the player takes control of a blob from outer space that is captured and placed in a lab for study, but he soon escapes and begins absorbing things to grow larger and larger. The blob must squish his way through narrow passages, push blocks and other objects, and even hover through the air to solve environmental puzzles.

The game is themed after 50’s and 60’s sci-fi invasion movies. The game’s 17 levels can be tackled alone or with a friend in local 2P co-op.

Mutant Blobs Attack starts out similarly with another blob being experimented on in a laboratory, and once again you must consume everything in sight to grow larger and larger. As before, you solve environmental puzzles through a number of areas on your path to get revenge against humanity. You can rocket your way through the air, magnetize yourself to objects, and move objects remotely.

As with Guacamelee, there are numerous references to other video games and pop culture, as well as mockups of posters typical of sci-fi invasion movies. The game features more than 20 single player levels as well as some top-down bonus missions.